between the United States and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, which were abruptly cancelled
by President Trump in September, are back on track. After several months of
diplomatic regrouping, American and Taliban negotiators are once again on the
verge of sealing a deal.
negotiators haven’t revised the basic transaction they set out last August — an
American commitment to withdraw troops from Afghanistan for a Taliban promise
not to allow the country to be used by transnational terrorists. Rather, they
have added sweeteners to the bargain: As a Taliban concession, a seven
“reduction in violence” before the U.S. will sign the deal, possibly followed
by further steps to keep violence down, and the release of prisoners demanded
by the insurgents.
measures may help build confidence in the plausibility of good-faith
negotiation, but they are primarily face-saving devices. The violence reduction
allows President Trump to reverse his repudiation of the talks and the Afghan
government to stop insisting that it would not participate in the next stage of
negotiations unless the Taliban declare and hold a cease-fire for at least a
in violence” is a tricky concept — and hinging the finalization of an agreement
on it puts the tentative deal on unsteady footing. The phrase is probably being
used to skirt the Taliban’s rejection, for now, of a cease-fire, but its
meaning is effectively the same as a temporary and limited cease-fire. (The
scale and geographic spread of the reduction in violence has not yet been
are likely to be ambiguous; compliance may be difficult to verify. Any type of
cease-fire early in a negotiating process, when the parties have not yet built
any momentum, will be especially vulnerable to violations.
violence reduction deal falls apart, hopes for a peace process would probably
shatter. It’s unlikely the pieces would be picked up any time soon. Time and
trust were lost after Mr. Trump called off talks in September. The United
States seemed fickle because, in fact, it was. Another round of Trumpian
fickleness could be an irredeemable error.
But if the
Taliban do reduce violence as promised, an agreement between the United States
and the Taliban would be signed later this month. It will be a major milestone
— the first of such significance in ten years of on-and-off efforts to launch a
as that will be, the expected agreement is not actually a peace deal. It is a
chance to get one. The agreement will break the logjam of the Taliban’s
longstanding unwillingness to sit in talks with the Afghan government and other
Afghan power brokers without first achieving an American commitment to withdraw
Taliban won the commitment in the Doha talks — which excluded the Afghan
government — will burnish its legitimacy as a worthy interlocutor with the
United States. The group will start the so-called “intra-Afghan” talks the
agreement requires with its leverage enhanced.
agreement’s value lies in opening the door to an Afghan peace process — it will
retain its salience only if it is followed by that next phase. So the details
may not matter all that much.
criticized the possible U.S.-Taliban agreement as nothing more than a fig leaf
for American military withdrawal. But if all the United States wanted to do was
leave Afghanistan, it could do so without making a deal with the Taliban. And
if intra-Afghan negotiations fall apart, it is hard to imagine the United
States will feel bound by whatever it has agreed with the Taliban. Ultimately,
America will pull out of Afghanistan on its own terms — just as it invaded and
dialed up and down its troop numbers in accord with American interests.
On the flip
side, the Taliban will only have reason to abide by its antiterrorism promises
if a peace agreement helps it become part of the political mainstream and gain
a stake in maintaining the legitimacy it has already begun to enjoy.
most of this opportunity will not be simple: The next stage of talks could
easily consume a year or more. They will have to tackle much thornier questions
of how to share power and security responsibilities and how to modify state
structures to satisfy both the government’s interest in maintaining the current
system and the Taliban’s interest in something they would regard as more
more, there are no doubt some on both sides who maintain maximalist
aspirations, still hoping to exclude the other side from power by any means.
These elements will be inclined either to provoke failure of the talks or to
outlast American and other outsiders’ pressure to persevere.
important task now is to start and generate traction in intra-Afghan
negotiations, without getting distracted by those who might seek to capitalize
on the fragility of the “reduction in violence” pledge or any cease-fire
agreements that follow. It is nearly certain there will be continued violence
during the talks.
an absolute necessity. A peace process won’t be done as fast as long-suffering
Afghans hope, nor quickly enough to produce a definitive political win before
the American presidential election. And a durable peace process needs a neutral
mediator to manage it, help to bridge mistrust and nudge the parties toward
compromises. This can’t be the United States, which isn’t neutral in the Afghan
war. But there won’t be a neutral mediator without American backing for the
States will need to lead the way to an appointment of an effective mediator
accepted by all sides. A senior statesperson who would command the respect not
only of those involved but also the leaders of Afghanistan’s meddlesome
neighbors — who will need to be consulted — would be ideal. The United States
can and should continue to exert its influence behind the scenes.
the word that best sums up American failure to seek a political settlement much
sooner. Negotiating now, with one foot out the door, requires accepting
uncomfortable compromises and precarious formulas — like “reduction in
violence.” But a good enough deal is the one you can actually get.
Miller is director of the Asia Program at the International Crisis Group. She
was the United States’ deputy and then acting special representative for
Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2017.
Headline: Will the U.S.-Taliban Deal End the War?
Source: The New York Times